A collection of mayors and city councilors in California and Nevada have taken the side of workers in a labor dispute with AT&T and released a biting letter condemning the company’s culture of “neglect and corporate games.”
The letter, released March 14 with the title “AT&T’s Greed Hurts Customers and Workers,” sides with the labor union CWA (Communications Workers of America), which claims that AT&T has cut call center jobs, moved others offshore and outsourced the operations of a number of retail stores to third-party dealers. It includes three pages of signatures, including the mayors of Santa Clara, Daly City, Berkeley and Chula Vista in California, the mayor of Reno, Nevada, and city councilors, county supervisors, school board members and state senators.
“As AT&T made more than $14 billion in profits last year, paid out $46 million to its top executives and spent billions on costly mergers, the company is attempting to move good quality jobs out of California and Nevada,” the letter reads. “Over the past five years, AT&T has cut more than 2,500 jobs in California alone, affecting communities from San Diego to Sacramento. In Bakersfield and Anaheim, where call centers have been shut down and jobs sent overseas, these corporate changes hurt local economies and have drained communities of good-paying jobs that are increasingly hard to find.”
AT&T is attempting to “reach a fair contract” with the union, according to Ars Technica. The company has cited some very different statistics, claiming that it had “hired nearly 3,300 people last year alone in California, of which over 2,700 were union represented employees.”
But the CWA is also pointing to AT&T’s breach in quality standards over the last few years. Citing service data provided by the company to California’s regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the CWA claims that AT&T hasn’t met the “out-of-service report standard” in California since 2014, Ars Technica reports. That standard indicates that 90 percent of AT&T’s reported outages need to be restored within 24 hours.
AT&T didn’t dispute those figures, but said extreme weather and heavy rain had “created an unusually high level of network repair work over the last few months,” according to Ars Technica.
Service was another critique of the mayors’ letter.
“Not only is AT&T failing to provide access to 21st-century high-speed connections to many communities, but it is also not maintaining the copper lines that are vital to landline phone access, 911 and emergency services and basic Internet service,” it states.
Nationally, both AT&T and T-Mobile have been in the limelight for disruptions in 911 service recently. According to the Washington Post, many 911 systems “rely on increasingly obsolete networks that are incompatible with new technologies and protocols.” In Dallas, a slew of “abandoned calls,” where a person calls 911 but hangs up before reaching an answer, were returned by dispatchers to determine if a true emergency had occurred. This created a backlog, which kept several true emergencies from getting through to dispatchers.
“The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t release tallies on how often 911 service is interrupted,” the Post reports. “But large-scale disruptions occur with some regularity. Just last week, AT&T cellphone customers were unable to call 911 in several states … . In August 2014, 911 connections for millions of T-Mobile customers were interrupted. The FCC said it stemmed from a software upgrade that interfered with call routing and a $17.5 million fine later was imposed.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.